American Rivers Report says River Further Imperiled by North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act of 2015
American Rivers recently included the Susquehanna River on the list of its Top 10 “At Risk” rivers in America. The number three ranking of the Susquehanna comes as no surprise to Waterkeepers Chesapeake and our Susquehanna Riverkeepers, who have been working on issues of water quality in this watershed for over a decade.
The river suffers from multiple impairments over its 464 miles (from New York to Pennsylvania to Maryland). There is stormwater runoff with associated agricultural and urban pollution, unmanaged industrial contamination as well as nutrient and sediment impairments from the Conowingo hydroelectric dam that operates near the town of Conwingo, Maryland.
Betsy Nicholas, Executive Director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake, said that Riverkeepers who monitor water quality throughout this watershed have been ringing the alarm bells for years.
“There are a lot of problems with the Susquehanna, the source of half the freshwater that flows into the Chesapeake Bay. The health of this river is critically important to our region,” Nicholas said. “A bill currently working its way through Congress would compound this watershed’s problems by ceding control of Conowingo Dam to FERC [Federal Energy Regulatory Commission], a federal regulatory body that has shown little concern for protecting water quality, but key attentiveness to the interests of energy companies. Particularly in this case, states should get a say.”
“The Susquehanna River is already endangered, producing large algae blooms, and bass that have sexual mutations and cancer. This movement in Congress to take away the rights of the states and other federal agencies to protect our rivers from the negative effects of hydro-electric dams can only make things worse,” said Michael Helfrich, Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper. “At Conowingo Dam we have one single facility that adds more pollution from the scouring of nutrients and sediment to the Chesapeake Bay than any other power plant, wastewater treatment plant, or farm field in the entire Susquehanna River Watershed. Without the states’ rights to protect themselves, the shareholders of the parent company, Exelon, will continue to profit, while the taxpayers pay the costs. While Maryland has not yet reached an agreement for Exelon to pay a fair share of the costs to reduce the pollution, the pressure needed to reach an agreement would not even be possible if not for Maryland’s right to protect its resources. A defeat of House Bill 8 is a victory for taxpayers and the waterways that they love.
Waterkeepers Chesapeake agrees with the path forward set out by American Rivers:
- Do not pass the current federal legislation ceding control of Conowingo Dam to FERC
- Maryland must hold Exelon, the company that owns Conowingo Dam, responsible for reducing sediment and nutrient releases and improving passage of migratory fish
- Bay partners must continue to reduce pollution by working – as our Riverkeepers, Harborkeepers and Coastkeepers have been working – directly in the watershed.